On violence
Apr 10, 2009
Bishop Hill in Children, Education, Libertarianism

There's a brilliant post at renegade parent on the subject of violence and children in which Lisa takes libertarians to task for advocating traditional approaches to child-rearing (enforced schooling, traditional subjects, corporal punishment and so on) which are, on the face of it, not exactly in accordance with libertarian ideals of self-ownership and non-initiation of violence.

I'm sympathetic to many of Lisa's points. For example, she says that children should follow their own interests and we have certainly found that putting educational materials in the way of the kids has been an easy way to get them to learn things - they simply pick them up and absorb them when they are ready, with Spanish, Geography and History proving very popular. I agree that children are not inherently stupid, untrustworthy or lazy - they are highly intelligent on the whole. I think they just don't know very much. (See the difference?).

It's also worth pointing out, however,  that just because someone advocates schools run along certain lines, doesn't mean that they support schooling per se. The decision to school children is effectively made for us by government when they tax us to support school-based education. Those who can afford to HE regardless (or are willing to make the personal financial sacrifice to do so, or who can bring themselves to live off benefits while doing so) are a minority. So if we are effectively forced into having schools, the question then becomes "how do we best get them to work", to which the answer might well be "traditional subjects, rote learning" and so on. I've written before about how coercion breeds coercion and this is another example of the same thing.

But Lisa's objection to corporal punishment is a mistake. There is nothing in libertarianism that says that harsh punishments are not permitted. Libertarians are against initiation of violence, but are quite comfortable with "giving as good as one gets", and then some.  Corporal punishment in fact is probably the most liberal approach to retributive justice there is. So when it comes to child rearing, I would have thought that "physical chastisement" is quite appropriate in certain circumstances. For example, when little Jonny bashes little Jane, and particularly if the social niceties of bashing have already been explained to little him, it would convey an important lesson about the real world. After all if we accept that children are intelligent human beings (which we do) then surely we have to accept that they have to take responsibility for their actions?

That said, use of corporal punishment for non-violent transgressions such as "answering back" is probably wrong. Once though, I applied my hand to bottom of one of the offspring for running across a road without looking. Did I do wrong? There's a question here of legitimate authority and its transgression that I need to get my head around. In the meantime, there's plenty to talk about.


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